Chasing the Midnight Sun

Chasing the Midnight Sun

The northern half of Scandinavia and the Polar Circle. Map printed in the English translation of Johannes Scheffer’s Lapponia (The History of Lapland, Oxford 1674). From Internet Archive.

Historic church and clock tower of Torneå.

Were the legends true that arrived from the High North? 

Up there, beyond 65° latitude, there was at least one day during the year at which the sun did not set.

The fantastic rumours continued to spread from those living beyond the utmost end of the Baltic Sea. And the king’s astronomers tended to concur – but few of them had truly seen the spectacle of a day that has 24 hours of sunlight.

Not always did the varnished accounts from the north meet the belief of the learned. Yet when they came to the ears of Charles XI, curiosity seized the king of Sweden to explore the phenomenon with his own eyes.

During his Eriksgata – the king’s traditional inspection of the regions of the reign – Norrland had been out of reach. So far, this northern part of his kingdom had remained a region the king had never seen. 

This would change in the summer of 1694. 

On 4 June Charles XI set out from Kungsör in the south. Ten days later, he arrived at Torneå, the harbour city located at the northernmost tip of the Baltic Sea. There, on the evening of 14 June, the king and a group of noblemen climbed the local clock tower. 

The anticipation was great. Yet conditions were far from ideal. 

Although the king’s party had hastened up north, they reached Torneå only a few days after the astronomical solstice. [Footnote. on calendar old style] A view did open up towards the north from the moderate height of a hundred feet. Yet the horizon line lay covered with forests and minor hills. And then, there were the clouds.

Their eyes going back and forth between the sky, the horizon and the clock, the men on the tower awaited midnight.

Would they become witnesses of that sublime spectacle? [Footnote: account in Bilberg / pp 10–16]


An account of what happened that night survives in the king’s notebook.

13 minutes before midnight, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. Six minutes into 15 July, its rays reappeared. 

Nevertheless, what he had seen was proof enough for the king. Despite the cloud briefly blocking the view, the sun had not set on the horizon that night. This was what the accounts of the locals confirmed. 

At Torneå, the Swedish King had witnessed an entire day of sunlight. In golden letters, his governor up north Gustaf Douglas had his account of that night inscribed in golden letters on a plaque in the church. 

The sun-lit night at Torneå had left a lasting impression on the king. Back south, the learned men at Uppsala listened with awe as Charles XI related the wonders he had witnessed in the north of his kingdom. 

The king himself had confirmed what his governors and astronomers so far had failed to verify, those singing his praise confirmed. In a medal, the artist Arvid Karlsteen commemorated the king’s seminal experience. 


„The sun that doesn’t set is encountered by another sun.“ Medal by Arvid Karlsteen commemorating the visit of King Charles XI to Torneå (reverse side), depicting the midnight sun setting north of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Specimen kept at Uppsala Myntkabinett. Courtesy of Alvin (record no. 79433). Footnote Minnespeningar:

At the same time, the observations the king had made raised new questions. 

How was it possible to see a day without sunset from a city that, as geographers and astronomers agreed, was located below the Arctic Circle?

To shed new light on this wondrous phenomenon he had witnessed, Charles XI ordered an expedition to travel north the coming year. 

In April 1695, the Uppsala professors Anders Spole and Johannes Bilberg were ordered to return north. Their task was to arrive already a few days before summer solstice, define the exact longitude of Torneå, measure the phenomenon the king had seen, and produce comparative data from higher longitudes up the Torne River. 

On 6 June, Bilberg and Spole reached Torneå after 14 days of arduous traveling. The same night they held their first watch over the horizon – only to witness the sun disappearing behind a cloud at 11:15:45. 

In subsequent measurements, they determined the latitude of Torneå as 65° 43′, commented on the more complicated issue of longitude, and on the deviation of the magnetic compass. [Footnote: ch. 2]

The weather remained a lottery. As the days of midsummer drew nearer, the sun disappeared behind rain and fog again. Yet in the decisive nights, the sky opened up. 

Their instruments set up on the church tower, the astronomers successfully observed the midnight sun. The hills and forests on the horizon still covered its lower quarter – yet the center of the sun gracefully hovered over the horizon. 


Title page of the astronomical treatise published by Johan Bilberg after the 1695 expedition to Torne-Lappland and dedicated to the Swedish king.

Courtesy of Umeå University Library (browse the full copy).

Astronomical diagram illustrating the phenomenon of refraction as seen from an observer (O) placed near a pole of the earth (T). From Bilberg, Refractio solis, p. 63

Courtesy of Umeå University (browse the full copy).

The mission of Bilberg and Spole was a full success. 

Travelling upstream from there, towards the Polar Circle on 66.6°, the two astronomers gathered additional measurements on how the sun appears on higher latitudes.

Having concluded their observations, the two astronomers quickly travelled back to Uppsala in the second half of June – hastening to bring their explanation of the mystery to the attention of the learned world. 

Already in late October 1695, Johannes Bilberg finished the work ‚On the refraction of the sun that does not set in the norther regions‘. The treatise, published in Swedish and Latin, was dedicated to the king that had launched them on the mission. 

The scientific answer to what Charles XI had witnessed the year before came in the phenomenon of refraction. 

On higher latitudes, the light of the sun has to pass through a thicker layer of atmosphere as it nears the horizon. This layer of air exerts a lens-effect on the rays, bending them in a way that the sun appears to not be setting around the date of the astronomical solstice at locations situated even below the Polar Circle – even though the sun is, astronomically speaking, already located under the horizon. 

#add here: transition

Mystery was solved. 

For others, it was the beginning.

Travelling North (again)

Today, the city the Swedish king visited in the north of his kingdom lies in another country.

In 1809 Sweden lost parts of the kingdom to Russia, which then constituted the Great Duchy of Finland. At that time, the Torne River that reaches the Baltic Sea at Torneå became – and has remained – a national border. 

Today, the Torne River divides the city of Haparanda on the Swedish side of the bank from ‚Tornio‘ on the eastern bank that today is Finnish territory. 


No sunset for more than 7 days. Detail from my weather app for the  Lower Torne Region for the week of midsummer 2022.

Notice next to the church of Torneå.

I arrived to Torneå the day of astronomical midsummer. In my baggage was equipment to film a 360° panorama of the phenomenon that had lured the king north. 

My first walk through the town that afternoon led me to the church tower Charles XI and his party had climbed. 

One thing I knew and had feared before were that opening times around midsummer are a lottery in Scandinavia. Torneå Church proved to be no exception.

A friendly voice on the telephone confirmed what a notice next to the church door had already indicated. 

The entire week of midsummer, there was no way to get into the church nor the clock tower.

A few elderly ladies visited the cemetery that afternoon, witnessing me rattle the handle of the door to their church in vain. Praising the inner beauty that lay behind, they thought to offer consolation.

As I watched them push their e-bikes towards a gate in the iron fence I noticed the large trees growing between the tomb stones.

Today, their canopy blocks the historic view that once opened up from there towards the horizon on the north (and, as Bilberg related, even from places around the church). The tower had not been an option anyway. 

If I wanted to see and film the midnight sun from Torneå, I had to look elsewhere.

Yet finding a suited vantage point in 21st-century Torneå was not the only challenge I faced. Like three centuries earlier, there was the weather, too.

Above the steeple, a milky halo in cotton-like clouds indicated the sun. Towards the horizon, they thickened to an impenetrable wall.

Checking the forecast I felt my anticipation growing. 

Having travelled north to have clouds block the sun in the decisive nights – that would really suck.

Clouds over the church of Torneå.

The historic center of Torneå is situated on an island between two branches of the Torne River. From the church I followed a paved street towards its northern tip. 

Further upstream, I began scouting for a suited location to capture the event that had lured the king and his astronomers up north more than three centuries ago. 

Next to a sports field, a water tower widened its concrete umbrella over the Tartan track. At its base, a stand-up display promised ice cream in the small café situated on top of the tower. 




Up the spiral staircase, in the greenhouse that was the glass rotunda in June, I met two students running the cafè of the local Ice Hockey club.  

A hot beverage in hand, I entered through a glass door onto the viewing platform around the rotunda. Groups of garden chairs were set up on the wooden pavement, manned by the odd teenage couple and young families enjoying the ice cream with a view. 

To the south, I saw the steeple of Torneå Church peek out from the trees on the cemetery. To the opposite side, the river continued towards the horizon. 


View from Torneå water tower. Near the bend of the sport field the trees of the cemetery and the church tower(s) are visible.


Clouds covered the rugged line in the distance. Right there, on 360° north, the sun would set in the coming nights. And no trees or buildings obstructed this view. 

„This is best view in Tornio“, the student who had served me coffee explained back in the glass rotunda. His name was Patrik. His friend who was giving him company nodded agreement. 

#talk about Berlin and Autobahn and german cliches, introduce rudbeck and mission



„Do you think I could set up a camera here to test,“ I asked after a while, explaining about my plans?

With Patrik’s shift times in my notebook I climbed down the tower again.

The coming evening I returned with my camera. The clouds had loosened up a little. Yet conditions were not ideal.

On the railing of the water tower I chose one of the metal bars to attach the mount of the camera with cable ties . 

When I tested time-lapse recording, I had to change the internal battery  ca. one-and-a-half hour. As I would not have access to the camera until Patrik’s shift restarted the next morning, I improvised an outdoor setup with an external powerbank.

Everything set up, I cast a view towards the horizon. It seemed as if it would remain covered again. 

„Let’s make this a test run“, I thought, pressed the recording button, and left with Patrik downstairs.

Preparing the camera (set-up with a 20.000mA powerbank).

Astronomers of Atlantis

#TRANSITION: there was a deeper reason to go to tornea, meaningful place for the rudbeck stories

At Uppsala, Olof Rudbeck was among the professors who had awaited the return of Bilberg and Spole with greatest anticipation. 

By 1695, Rudbeck was working on what now was already the third volume of his AtlanticaThe data the astronomers brought from Torneå inspired new claims that Rudbeck pressed on mythology. 

Already in previous volumes, Rudbeck had presented an abundance of evidence that the high civilisation in Sweden had had deep insight into astronomy. Among them were, for example, rune calendars that he studied at length in the preceding two volumes of the Atlantica



@Bernhard: add image of rune calendars in the Atlantica.

Eagerly, Rudbeck absorbed the new light the king’s mission and that Bilberg and Spole shed on the phenomenon of refraction up north into his master narrative of early Swedish civilisation.

In the history Rudbeck presented, Atlas had been the first ruler over the island named after him, Atlantis. At the same time, he was the ancestor of the dynasty of Swedish kings up to Gustav I Vasa.

For Rudbeck, it was a historic reality that Atlas had laid the basis for astronomy in Sweden, too. Hailed as inventor of astronomy in classical mythology, Atlas had – in Rudbeck’s interpretation – observed the movements of the celestial bodies and first conserved this knowledge in the form of runic staffs. In his view, other myths such as Hercules stealing the Golden Apples from Atlas’s garden describe how civilisational knowledge (astronomy, alphabet) spread out from Sweden to the rest of Europe.

And from early on, this knowledge comprised the phenomenon of refraction, which Atlas had seen at Torneå as Charles XI did four millennia later.


For the footnotes: Rudbeck, Atlantica, vol. 3, ch. 10.9 (pp. 264–8). Cf. ibid., vol. 1, #, (346; 831; 858).



Diagram explaining the refraction of the sun as observed from Torneå. Woodcut from Rudbeck, Atlantica, vol. 3, p. 

See RfA-ID 512 on Reaching for Atlantis.

B Süden, A Nord

e, f: astronomischer horizont

a, d: allgemeiner horizont, den man von Tornea zum Norden hin sehen kann und der von dort betrachtet an den wäldern im Norden endet;

a – k  allgemeiner horizont, wie er von Torneå aus zum Meer hin endet

c, d, g sind Berge; c: diese von Torneo sichtbar, von Pello und Kengis (weiter nörldlich) d und g sichtbar

b ist Sonne, die sich hier unterhalb des astronomischen Horizonts befindet

und die ihre Strahlen durch die dicke Luft auf der höhe von L, M, schickt; bei L gebrochen; von Torneo als e sichtbar ?

bei 2: Sonnenstand um 1° höher. Refraktionspunkt dann bei N; damit blockieren Berge und Wälder bei d das Licht, endet somit am allgemeinen Horizonts von Tornea, also von dort aus Sonne nicht sichtbar (da hinter bergen)

bei 3: hier geschieht Refraktion bei Punkt P – dies ist dann schon sichtbar vom Meer aus an Punkt a

und wo weiter bei 4, 5 bis 6 grad, wo dann endlich die Stadt c voll von der Sonne bestrahlt wird


Rune staffs were not the only antiquity accounting to the high level of astronomy in early Sweden. 

For Rudbeck, the complex patterns carved on onto the drums used by the Sámi shamans spoke eloquently of the sophisticated world view up north.

A total of sixteen drum skins are depicted in the volumes of the Atlantica, together with lofty interpretations of their iconographies. Incriminated as tool in pagan rites, these drums were confiscated and often destroyed by Christian missionaries in the north of Scandinavia from the seventeenth century onward.

Collectors across Europe sought after these rare objects that were and are at the heart of Sámi cultural identity. Today, only a small number of them survive in modern collections – and only a tiny fraction of them in museums run or acknowledged by the indigenous communities in the north of Scandinavia. 


Carved skin of a Sámi drum as depicted in Rudbeck, Atlantica, vol. 2. 

See RfA-ID 325 on Reaching for Atlantis.

Note to self: Volle Beschreibung auf NB II.170

discuss with lutz: einzelbeschreibung der elemente?

In the Atlantica, Rudbeck drew on Sámi drums as further evidence for the advanced knowledge of astronomy that the North possessed from early on. 

In common interpretation, the various sectors of these drums represent the regions of the sky, the earth, and the underworld. Forcing his own interpretation on the various elements, Rudbeck made them evidence for his master narrative.

At least two Sámi drums were in Rudbeck’s own collection, probably through the help of Samuel Otto, a student from Lapland. In several cases, the woodcuts of drums he printed in the Atlantica are the only evidence that the corresponding objects existed at all. 


One of these drums (introduced as K, cf. RfA-ID 325) depicts a half disk of the sun half-way in the underworld. 

In Rudbeck’s view, it shows the gaze over the horizon of a midsummer landscape in the High North. This is illuminated by a sun that, astronomically speaking, was already below the horizon. 

For Rudbeck, such an iconography was evidence that the creators of this pattern had already been familiar with the phenomenon of refraction.


Footnotes: Wiklund, “Olof Rudbeck d.ä. och lapptrummorna”. From a modern perspective see #OPAC The Shamanic Drum as Cognitive Map: Juha Pentikäinen

for recfraction drum: Rudbeck, Atlantica, vol. 2, ch. 11, p. 658: »Ast tympanum K. lit. i. in confinio regionum terrenae atque subterraeneae solem habet dimidiatam radio[s] suos deorsum spargentem, quoniam sub horizonte per brumam delitescens radios tamen parte ea quae sursum vertitur supra horizontem […] emittit.« Cf. ibid., p. 400; p. 632.


(Get to) know your gear

As I walked the footpath towards the water tower the next morning, Patrik passed me on his mountain bike. 

„I think the camera may have tilted“, he said while retrieving the key to the metal door from his pocket.

Stepping onto the platform upstairs confirmed what Patrik had already suspected from below. The camera was not blinking in the usual interval. 

I exchanged the battery and connected the camera to my phone. 

1:19h – that was how long the last recording had lasted. The power bank had not taken over when the internal battery ran out. The camera had shut down. It hadn’t even filmed close to midnight.

Scrolling forwards in the time lapse I found out that the camera must have tilted only after it stopped filming. The railing had proven not ideal to fixate the mount. 

Scrolling backwards, I watched a carpet of low clouds travelling towards the horizon. It had been covered at midnight anyway, I knew from the night before. If the weather allowed for a second chance at all, the technical setup had to be impeccable that time.

I considered the options. Patrik had told me earlier on that the cafè would be closed over the coming days. The midsummer weekend was drawing near. 

„Do you think there is a way I could come up here again the days around midsummer,“ I asked tentatively? 

After a brief moment of silence, Patrik pulled out his cell phone.

„Let me do a call,“ he said, and disappeared inside. 


Twisted camera.

Time lapse video of the first filming attempt on the water tower (condensing ca 1:30h of filming).

Parallel Expeditions

Rudbeck the Younger's journey to Lapland

#create transition

In 1695, Bilberg and Spole had not been the only expedition embarking north from Uppsala. Shortly after them, a second expedition had left from Uppsala. 

His journey the year before had sparked deep interest for Lapland in the king. And so, he sent another mission up north, to explore the undocumented nature of this part of his kingdom and report about its inhabitants. 

Leading this expedition fell to Olof Rudbeck the Younger – son to the Atlantica’s author. From early on, Rudbeck the Elder had paved the way that put his son on a fast track for an academic career. In 1688, Rudbeck the Younger dedicated and presented his botanical dissertation to the Swedish queen Ulrika Eleonora. When she and her husband Charles XI visited Uppsala in 1693, he could prove his skills as a draftsman of nature to the royal couple. [Footnotes: Rudbeck dY, Laponia illustrata, 17–19. As an introduction to the expedition see Anfält (1987). As an introduction to his journey see Fries T. M., “Den första naturvetenskapliga forskningsfärden i Sverige”, in: Nordisk tidskrift för vetenskap, konst och industri (1898), 481–497, 517–537.]


Rudbeck and his team left Uppsala on 22 May 1695. They travelled at a slower pace than the astronomers, making rich observations on their way up the Baltic coast. Part of his team were the two painters Andreas Holtzbohm and Olof Thelott and his friend # Count / sons of Johan Gyllenstolpe and Carl Gyllenborg. While Bilberg and Spole deployed their instruments to measure in any new place, the first action of Rudbeck and his team was to document plants and birds.

The two expeditions united briefly at Torneå the days around midsummer 1695. From the church tower, Bilberg and Spole measured the phenomenon of refraction that the king had witnessed the year before. 

On 13 June, the team of Rudbeck the Younger left Torneå by boat. Upstream, he hoped for better observation conditions. Climbing the wings of a wind mill – a vantage point he claimed more favourable than Bilberg’s in town – he witnessed the midnight sun that night, its lower quarter still covered by the trees and hills on the horizon. [footnote: dagboken 34]

Frontispiece of Rudbeck the Younger’s Laponia illustrata (1701).

From the copy kept at Uppsala University Library. Courtesy of (Alvin-record:103033).

Publishing the results

Over the coming days, Rudbeck and the astronomers continued further up the Torne River. Up north, Bilberg and Spole made observations of the midnight sun on higher latitudes that were less affected by refraction. 

The team around Rudbeck the Younger followed on the same route. On 4 July, they reached the headwaters of the Torne River. From this northernmost point of their journey upstream, Bilberg and Spole quickly headed back to Torneå. From there, they made haste to return to Uppsala. 

Rudbeck’s team, however, continued their journey in other parts Lapland. From Torneå, they embarked for Luleå. From the harbour town on the Baltic Sea, they followed up the the Lule River on a second leg of their expedition leading deep into north-western Lapland.

As late as September 1695, Rudbeck the Younger returned from his journey that had lasted five months. At that time, Bilberg was already close to finishing his treatise on refraction. 

It would take Rudbeck another six years until the first result from their harvest of material saw the light. In 1701 the Laponia illustrata (‚Lapland illustrated‘) appeared. It was the first volume in a series intended to cover no less than twelve volumes. 


Its frontispiece (opening engraving) communicates the vision that Rudbeck the Younger projected on the northern regions of the Swedish kingdom.  

The rock gate in the center opens up a vision into a landscape of stunning beauty, wonder and ancient promise. For Rudbeck, there was a place whose geography, nature, language, and ancient rites left no doubt about the historic truths the Bible had meant – and this place was Lapland. 

Yet the landscape and the scenes the frontispiece shows are far from naturalistic. As in the case of other engravings from the time [Footnote: Stone in the Green Valley], it combines pictorial details inspired by earlier illustrations – first and foremost Johannes Scheffer’s 1673 Lapponia – with further features that Rudbeck the Younger connected with Lapland. 

It was the river landscape at the right, with its rapids and raging waterfalls, that attracted my attention during my days on the Torne River. 

Further upstream, a hill emerges at the left bank. At its top there is a wooden boat. At its foot there is a camp site with tents. In front of them, a small group of people seems to engage in a fire sacrifice. 

A pair of medaillons, held by winged putti hold to the right, provides the key to this imageryThese combine slightly modified verses from the bible in Swedish and Hebrew. At their center, they are illustrated by images recalling the emblematic tradition of the Baroque. 

The medaillon at the bottom right – This is the sign of my covenant– refers to the rainbow which God put into the sky after the deluge as a sign for his new covenant with Noah and humankind. 

The one above – ‚And the Lord smelled a pleasing aroma‘ – points to the same episode from the Bible. It refers to the favourable reaction that the fire sacrifice kindled in God when Noah thanked him for the flood receding by selecting animals from the ark.

The two medaillons thus spell out the biblical dimension to which the landscape in the background delivers. Lapland was a promised landscape – the place where Noah’s ark had landed. 


Detail from the frontispiece of Rudbeck the Younger’s Laponia illustrata (1701).

From the copy kept at Uppsala University Library. Courtesy of (Alvin-record:103033).

A gate to Paradise

Explore the meanings behind the Laponia's frontispiece!

A ship marks the top of a mountain rising near the river on whose banks a group performs a a burnt offering.

On his journey, Rudbeck the Younger had heard legends of people surviving a deluge by stranding with a boat on specific mountains in Lapland.

Rudbeck the Younger passed these mountains – Luppiovari on the western bank and Aavasaksa in today's Finland – on his way up the Torne Valley in 1695.

The medaillon(s) below the river scene evoke the biblical episode of the Deluge. They provide a biblical subtext to these narratives Rudbeck heard circulating in Lapland. This way, the landscape he had travelled attained a salvific dimension.

Not far from the river a group of people has erected an altar near their tent and engages in a burnt sacrifice.

The offering, the cloud of smoke rising to the sky, and the ship stranded on the nearby mountain all tie in with the biblical dimension evoked by the two medaillons below.

Both of them allude to the episode of Noah's ark, in this case his fragrant offering to God after having survived the deluge – an episode that this scene and the neighbouring ship subtly transplant to Lapland (for contemporary accounts of Sámi sacrifices see Scheffer, Lapponia, ch. 10).

The scene shows the Moses intervening with the idolatrous Israelites.

As the book Exodos (Ex 32) describes, the Israelites started creating and venerating a Golden Calf while Moses ascended Mt Sinai and received the Ten Commandments.

In this scene, Moses directs their belief away from the idol and towards the heaven, where a figure of Christ with the cross is seated within an aureola on a cloud.

In combination with the biblical medaillons below, this episode is thus presented as an analogy for the Christian mission to be pursued in Lapland.

In the view of the Church, the heathen and idolatrous Sámi had to be directed towards the true faith – a thought that legitimised the historic mistreatment of indigenous cultures up north and the destruction of their cultural heritage.

The middle of this medaillon depicts a thurible from which four clouds of frankincense emerge.

The surrounding Bible verse quoted in Hebrew and Swedish – 'Och Herren luchtade en söt lucht ('And the Lord smelled a pleasing aroma') – points to Genesis 8:21.

It is the scene in which Noah leaves the ark after the Deluge and immediately thanks God by sacrificing select animals for him on an altar – a fragrant burnt offering that God received in favour of Noah and humankind in general.

As in the case of the medaillons to the left, the illustrated verses spell out the biblical subtext for the scene depicted on the margin above (see there).

Like the one above, this emblematic medaillon evokes the context of the Deluge as described in the book of Genesis.

The verse quoted in Hebrew and Swedish – 'Thetta är teknet til mit Förbund ('This is the sign of my covenant', cf. Genesis 9:12 – refers to the rainbow that God put in the sky as the Deluge receded to signify his new covenant with humankind. 

As in the case of the medaillons to the left, the illustrated verses spell out the biblical subtext for scenes depicted in the margin above – in this case an ark stranded on a mountain in Lapland.

To the right of the drum a putto presents two pages opened in a book on his knee.

Each page shows two lines in Hebrew, which, as the quill in the right hand suggests, have been written by the putto.

The left of them (לא תכחשו) is modelled after the instructions given by God to Moses in Leviticus 19:11 (full verse:  לא תגנבו ולא תכחשו ולא תשקרו איש בעמיתו), here translating as the imperative 'do not deny'.

The left of them (ולא תעוככו) is modelled after #, continuing as 'and do not #'.  

The Hebrew imperatives thus underline the claim for truth that Rudbeck the Younger made in his salvific reading of the Lapponian landscape.

The scene depicts a person holding the reins of an ackia, the traditional reindeer sled of the Sámi.

As with a large number of references to Sámi culture in this frontispiece, Johannes Scheffer provided the probable model in his Lapponia.

Detail from Johannes Scheffer, Lapponia (Engl. transl. History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 106. From Internet Archive.

A sled of this kind is extant at the Livsrustkammaren Stockholm and indirectly linked to Rudbeck's expedition.

It was sent to King Charles XI in the autumn of 1694 by Count Gustaf Douglas, governor of Västerbotten – probably in the aftermath of the king's visit at Torneå, where the king and Count Douglas watched the spectacle of the midnight sun from the local clock tower.


A curious detail, so far unnoticed, hides in the landscape that widens beyond the rock gate. 

Between the scenes of Sámi herders and travellers that fill the scene, the vague contours of a Sámi drum ritual can be discovered.

Detail from Johannes Scheffer, Lapponia (Engl. transl. History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 56. From Internet Archive.

As with many of the figures the populate this scene, Johannes Scheffer provided the model that the engraver here integrated (and that Rudbeck the Elder reprinted in his Atlantica, see RfA-ID 72).

We can only speculate why the scene appears erased from the hills.

Perhaps the engraver decided to remove this key scene of Sámi culture from the background and placed it more prominently in the foreground instead, appropriating it in his own Baroque imagery?  

A bearded man with a long staff waits cross-legged at the rock portal that opens up Rudbeck's vision of Lapland.

Rudbeck the Younger provides several hints to interpret this figure as mythology's Charon, the ferryman on whose boat the souls passed over the Styx to the otherworld.

After they had left Uppsala behind on their long way north, the travel party to Lapland had to ferry over the Dalälven – the river Rudbeck the Elder defined as the southern border of the Elysian Fields.

His son was well aware of the liminal character his father attributed to the Dalälven: In his travel report, he goes so far to compare the river raging before him to a Stygian setting, comparing the grey-haired ferryman to antiquity's Charon whom the Roman poet Vergil vividly described in the sixth book of his Aeneid.

But there was more.

As Rudbeck tries to show by harking back to Hebrew, Greek, or Sami, Charon's name as well as that of the village where they crossed over – 'Elfkarby', or Älvkarleby in today's spelling – root in the word linked to ships and ferrying.

Yet not only the name itself pointed to the true origin of Charon's myth. Adapting a creative mode of reasoning from his father, in the coastlines of the Baltic Sea themselves Rudbeck the Younger revealed the outlines of the man who stands for the transition into the Elysian Fields that, of course, originated on Swedish ground.

Crossing over the Dalälven remained a rite of passage into the other world in the imagination of eighteenth-century travellers. A generation later, Carl Linneaus – a student of Rubeck the Younger – still recalled the episode of Charon as he, too, crossed the river at Älvkarleby on his way to Lapland in the 1730s.

Footnotes: RdY, Laponia Illustrata, pp. 23–65.

#add: Carl Linneaus.

"Nora Samolad, or: Lapland illustrated by Olof Rudbeck the Son" – this is the title under which Rudbeck the Younger presented the first volume of his travel report (1701).

Above, a dedication line placed below the royal insignia and monogram and a radiating tetragram יהוה – the unvocalised name of God in the Hebrew bible – symbolise the hierarchy of recipients to whom Rudbeck dedicated his work: "To God and the King.

The trumpets with the royal coat of arms and the military decoration again point to Charles XII, a king who spent the larger part of his regency in the field.

Below the title line, a coat of arms shows a wild man with a club – the historic insignia of Lappmarken that Rudbeck the Elder further explained in his Atlantica.

A bird hovers over the barren mountain landscape in this medaillon. From a triangle behind rays radiate across the scene.

This iconography represents the Holy Spirit, usually expressed by a dove. It is the subject of the surrounding text – "The låta min Anda hvilas i Norlanderna" ('They have set my Spirit at rest in the north country') –, a a reference to  Zechariah 6:8.

As in the case of the medaillons to the right, the illustrated verses spell out the biblical subtext for the scene depicted in the margin above (see there).

The sun breaks through dark clouds in the middle of this medaillon. The text around it – "Folket som i mörkret wandrar ser ett stort Lius" ('The people who walks in the darkness sees a great light') – refers to Jesaia 9:2, quoted in the Hebrew original below.

This verse creates a direct connection to the scene further above, depicting Moses pointing out the path to true salvation to the idolatrous Israelites.

Placed at the center of the bottom margin, two winged putti engage in the playing of a Sámi drum.

One of the putto holds the drum and points to its middle. The other one, dressed in armour (on this see below), holds a device resembling the traditional drumstick, commonly carved from reindeer bone.

This Sámi drum loosely follows a surface that was first depicted in Scheffer's Lapponia (1673) and from there copied as a woodcut and re-interpreted in Rudbeck's Atlantica (drum F).

This drum is one of the few ones that have survived the dispossession and destruction of Sámi material heritage that followed the colonisation and missionising of Sweden's North from the 17th century onward.

Scheffer explains that he obtained the drum from Henry Flemming, colonel of a foot regiment in Finland. Through paths unclear, the drum ended up in the collection of the 19th-century ethnologist Gustav Klemm. His collection was eventually integrated into today's Grassi Museum für Völkerkunde at Leipzig, where the drum is still kept (Inv Nr EU00580).

In his Atlantica, Rudbeck the Elder provided a lofty interpretation of the drum's complex iconography. For him, this and many other Sámi drums provided early evidence for concepts of the other world that, in his view, later echoed in texts from Greek and Roman antiquity. 

The depiction of the drum scene here follows a seminal depiction of Sámi incantation practice as described and depicted by Johannes Scheffer. 

Detail from Scheffer, Lapponia (Engl. transl.: History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 56. From Internet Archive.

Such practice included a metal ring – the so-called frog or serpent – that here is seen on the upper third. With the beating of the drum, the ring travelled over the surface. It thus played an essential part in the divination rituals in which the shamans engaged and whose image non-Sámi scholars like Scheffer substantially shaped in European imagination.

For Rudbeck the Elder, the Sámi drum was a symbol that stood for a connection to the other world. In his Atlantica, he linked the shaman skills of opening up a gateway to these worlds to narratives described in ancient myth. For example, he related the myth of Aeneas plucking the enigmatic Golden Bough to visit his father on the Elysian Fields (Vergil, Aeneid, book 6) to the alder tree, whose juices provided the brownish-golden colour which the Sámi used to dye the carvings on their drums.

All this further connects the scene of beating the drum with the portal scene above. Both of them stand for the passage into the Elysian landscape of Lapland that widens behind and that Rudbeck the Younger unfolds throughout his work.

The left putto who beats the drum holds a Gorgon shield in his other hand – a deterrent feature that e.g. Homer described for the shields of Agamemnon or Athena (cf. Iliad 5.741 and 11.33). He is dressed in a body armour that leaves one breast naked. 

Such an appearance could be a playful allusion to the Amazons. Rudbeck the Elder linked this legendary tribe of warlike women to Scandinavia's high north, paying considerable attention to their Gorgon-like hair and weapons in the third volume of his Atlantica.

This scene shows figures venerating an idol on a hilltop, thus corresponding with the scene of Moses depicted on the left margin.

According to Johannes Scheffer, the Sámi built wooden idols of one of their highest gods from birch tree in the likeness of a man's head.

Detail from Scheffer's Lapponia (Engl. transl. History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 41. The same image was copied into Rudbeck's Atlantica (RfA-ID 291). From Internet Archive

Further details possibly included from Scheffer's account of Sámi spirituality (Lapponia, ch. 10) here may include seite stones and reindeer antlers.

From the mountains in the background flows a mighty river, breaking among rocks in steep rapids.

As the ark on Mt Luppiovari or Aavasaksa in the background implies, it is likely that this river is supposed to represent Torneälven.

After midsummer 1695, Rudbeck's expedition travelled north from Torneå along its banks. On this way, they passed Kukkulaforsen (see Dagboken, p. 37) – one of the mighty waterfalls that could have inspired this illustration.

INSERT HERE: 10sec video of waterfall.  

Two men engage in a lively conversation at the right side of the rock portal.

Their clothing suggests that they are members of nobility (left) and the Sámi community respectively (right). While the identity of the former is unclear (Rudbeck the Younger? King Charles XII?), the latter is depicted with attributes Scheffer displayed in his Lapponia.

Detail from Scheffer, Lapponia (Engl. transl. History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 104. From Internet Archive.

The gestures of the men point to opposite directions as they engage in dialogue.

The noblemen presents the prophetic verses that provide the subtext to the Laponian landscape, whereas the Sámi points out the landscape itself.

Such a scene could symbolise the synthesis that Rudbeck the Younger tried to achieve with his work – the south learning from the indigenous about the landscapes, customs and language that all provided keys to biblical narratives, and at the same time bringing a revelation to the indigenous who since olden days have lived in the landscape whose promised dimension they had so far failed to realise in the Christian sense. 

This group introduces a signature feature of Sámi hunters in contemporary depiction – skis (cf. the presentation in Rudbeck's Atlantica).

Detail from Scheffer, Lapponia (Engl. transl. History of Lapland, Oxford 1674), p. 99. From Internet Archive.


A group of people has gathered near their tents, holding hands in a circle.

Not far above, the sun scraping the horizon dominates the center of the frontispiece. This suggests that the group is engaging in a celebration of the sun.

According to Scheffer (Lapponia, ch. 10, p. 38), the sun was one of the main deities the Sámi venerated under the name of Baiwe as the author of all things – reindeer in particular.

Was the landscape in this frontispiece purely imaginary – or was there an actual place up north, one whose physical features and legends was behind this depiction? 

Rudbeck the Younger does not answer the question in the Laponia illustrataMost of his material from the journey burned in the Fire of Uppsala in 1702. The one part of the Laponia illustrata that had appeared in print until then only covers the expedition’s path up to the Dalälven – some fifty miles out of Uppsala. 

What survives are the raw notes Rudbeck jotted down on the voyage, a few of the exquisite expedition drawings his draughtsmen produced, and secondary sources on the voyage. 

These sources include the volume of his father’s Atlantica that appeared after his son’s return, that is volumes three (1698) and four (1702, fragment). It is in the fourth volume that Rudbeck the Elder revisits variants of ancient traditions such as the Deluge. As he argued, all these traditions must point to one historic reality at their core. It is in his Atlantica that he discussed candidates for the highest mountain at that time – the one where Noah’s ark must have stranded accordingly. 


In the same context, Rudbeck the Elder also touches on local lore of mountains linked with stories of global flooding – including stories from Lapland. 

On his recent journey north, Rudbeck the Elder relates, his son had heard of traditions circulating among the Sámi about a flood that once drowned all humans – except the ones who survived in a boat and stranded on nearby peaks. 

The Sámi were still predominantly of pagan belief, Rudbeck explained. Therefore, he interpreted the existence of such traditions up north as evidence that it had been the same major event which echoed in the early myths of different cultures. 

In this context, Rudbeck the Elder mentions two such peaks about which his son had learned on his recent journey north – ‚Lappavari‘ and ‚Avasaxa‘. (fOOTNOtES: Avasaxa: IV p. 23f)

The first of these I found about sixty kilometres upstream from Torneå – Mount Aavasaksa on the eastern (Finnish) bank. It is a hill of modest height. Yet rising a few hundred meters over the river valley, Aavasaksa ranks among the most exquisite spots to witness the midnight sun over Torne Lapland.


View across the Torne River towards Aavasaksa Mountain as seen from Luppioberget .

Photograph by Annette Rosengren (1979) from the collection of the Nordiska Museet (CC-BY-NC-ND). Courtesy of (DIMU code 011013853019).

Train stopping near the foot of Luppiovari Mountain (ca. 1950). In previous decades, thousands flocked to Luppiovari and Aavasaksa in the days around Midsummer. 

Photograph by Eric Lundquist (ca. 1950) from the collection of the Järnvägsmuseet (CC-pdm). Courtesy of (DIMU code 021018081953).

On his way up the Torne River, Rudbeck the Younger had changed crew and boats at Aavasaksa mountain. In his handwritten journal, he noted the legends he picked up on that occasion.

Among locals there was lore of an ark that stranded up the hill in the great deluge – and even of physical remains still visible. The same legend he had heard about another hill nearby, to which he and his father referred as ‚Lupovari‘ and ‚Lappavari‘ respectively – that is Luppiovari, a similarly prominent hill a little further downstream on the Swedish bank. [footnote dagboken 38, 39]

There seemed to be an actual a landscape that inspired the Laponia’s frontispiece. The two neighbouring mountains and the legends tied to them were at the bottom of the vision that Rudbeck the Younger opened up into Lapland

If the clouds moved on in the coming days, this was where I wanted to head.



tentative translation by Bernhard,

@Theo: voice over material??

„… Lupovari mountain, [derived] from [the word] shallop, boat, of adequate height, of which it is said that the ark in the Deluge has stranded, of which some remains are still supposed to be visible. Others said the same in return about Aavasaksa at Mikkolajärvi, where we also had a change of crew and river boats. With the former may it be as it can, namely that the ark could have stranded there in the Deluge. But the latter – that there is still something of the keel supposed to lie around – is of no value.“

[Footnote: Dagboken p 38: „… berget Lupovari, af slup, båth, tämeligt högt, hwarest sades att boten i syndafloden skulla hafwa stannat, hwar effter ännu skulla synnas några öfwerlefwor. Andra sade åter thet samma om Avasaxar wid Mikkolajärvi, ther wir och hade omwexling med folk och håpar. Med thet förra må wara huru thet kan, nemligen att boten ther i syndafloden kunnat stanna, men thet senare, att ther effter ännu något af kölen skall ligga qwar, är af intet wärde.“]


Clouded sky over Torneå as seen from the eastern bank of the Torne River. In the center the water tower. To the far left, the steeple of the historic church.

24 Hours under the midnight sun

„I talked to my boss,“ Patrik said as he stepped out onto the platform of the water tower again. 

„You can call and see with key.“

I descended the stairs with a telephone number in my phone. 

The horizon stayed cloudy that night. The next morning though, the forecast looked promising for the midsummer weekend. 

I decided to get in touch.

The tower would not be manned, the texts I received confirmed. Staff may suffer a little the morning after midsummer. So it would be difficult to find someone to open the door for me the next morning to pick up camera.

The easiest would be if I take over the key and deliver it myself the day after, I tentatively suggested. After a few more texts, an appointment to pick up the key was fixed.


As the clock struck four the next day, the familiar sound of a boxer motor resounded from the footpath leading towards the water tower. A Beetle sped up, stopping at its base with a noisy pull of the handbrake. 

„He speak no English,“ I had been warned about the key deliverer. 

„Nice car you have there“, I tried to compliment in the Finnish I scraped together in the back of my head. With little words, the beetle pilot approached the door to the tower, turned the key in the lock, and handed it over to me with a smile. 

„I’ll be in touch,“ I tried to let him know as he already headed back to his car. 

Feeling the piece of cold metal in my hand, I watched the Beetle scoot back in rear drive towards the main road. 

All this had taken less than a minute.

Upstairs on the water tower, I set up the camera.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum quis ante at dolor tincidunt vulputate sit amet ut diam. Cras et rhoncus ligula. Vestibulum facilisis neque ut interdum vestibulum. Duis at arcu ornare, convallis felis eget, pharetra metus. Proin sagittis risus eget dui posuere, non blandit urna sagittis. 

Pressed play. Climbed down. 

And departed towards Aavasaksa, into the midsummer night.



way up torne dalen

arrival to Aavasaksa

the watchtower on aavasaksa

follow the river around the mountain

finding the bridge for the railway

the fors in that river

the ship like structure in the water

aavasaksa mountain with its open flank



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vestibulum quis ante at dolor tincidunt vulputate sit amet ut diam. Cras et rhoncus ligula. Vestibulum facilisis neque ut interdum vestibulum. Duis at arcu ornare, convallis felis eget, pharetra metus. Proin sagittis risus eget dui posuere, non blandit urna sagittis. 

Here we should place a cool video by Theo from the Aavasaksa / Noah’s Ark Material.

on the peaceful field: sound of motocross bikes driving up to the watch tower on aavasaksa

I drive away,

search for a place on the other river bank

to see aavasaksa from some distance, with the midnight sun

drone filming

not a single car on the roads I travelled that night

only a few teenagers on bikes, in T-shirts, white plastic bags with beer cans, peaceful


returning south on the swedish bank

a rabbit running in front of the car

fog rises over the torne river in the early morning

church at hedenäset, pull over into drive way

walk towards the silent river, peacefulness of the river landscape

cow sheds mirror on the even surface

cow bells ringing across the water from the island in the river

aavasaksa sunrise

Here we place a fancy multmedia installation with the soundtrack of the landscape.

driving back to tornea


warm evening air in the car

no car passing



back on the water tower

check in with the camera

looking stable

recording time 09:54:04 hours – happy, camera still working

roll out the mattress, buff over head, fall asleep in the morning sun



IDEA: Voice over in video, with translation of the poem praising the King witnessing the sun not setting over his reign at Torneå?



Torna, vetus septem sed nunc nova fama Trionum,

   Ultima Botniaci quam maris unda ferit:

Grande tibi cessit, praesens quod suspicit aevum,

   Quodque canent semper postera secla, decus.

Nuper Hyperboreum propius cum viseret axem

   CAROLUS, Augusti sideris instar habens;

Quaque iit, in plausus sese utraque solveret Arctos,

   Et nova conciperet gaudia totus apex:

In te, pervigilem, nocturno tempore, Phoebum

   Vidit, pro patria pervigil ipse sua:

Vidit inocciduo radiantem lumine vultum,

   Perpetuoque die tum sua Regna frui.

I nunc, quicunque es, nostris atque objice terris

   Aeternumque gelu, Cimmeriumque chaos,

Haec lege, quae narrat Bilbergius, (Is quoque tantae

   Spectator lucis, Rege jubente, fuit)

Cognosces, quanto fulgore hic ferveat aestas;

   Quantaque naturae munera mitis alat.

Cognosces, quam pura fluat, qua vescimur, aura;

   Quam sit, quod colimus, non sibi segne solum.

Ut nulli faveat Titan impensius orae;

   Majores nusquam ducat ut ille moras.

Hibernae noctes tolerentur, et aspera brumae:

   Omnia nam redimit solstitiale jubar


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